Training Scientists to be Better Communicators

pen and paper

Published by Emmi Solutions

Have you ever been to the doctor and left feeling overwhelmed? Perhaps you were prescribed a new drug with an unpronounceable name, or told you have high blood pressure and need to modify your diet. You start doing research online and are bombarded with studies, blogs and websites full of jargon and data. There is valuable information to digest, but much of it is impossible to understand.

That’s why we need to turn scientists into great communicators. Believe it or not, most graduate science students receive little or no training on how to communicate their research to the public. Students mainly present their work to colleagues, and don’t learn how to boil down complicated concepts into basic ideas.

As a result, students graduate and enter the workforce ill-equipped to discuss their research with lay people, those who will be impacted by modern-day scientific research the most.

In my work, I help graduate science students one-on-one, teaching them the basics of storytelling, and helping them to craft feature articles about their research for my office’s online magazine. From quantum chemistry to materials science and engineering to microbiology, the students hail from all disciplines. What do they have in common? They’re all doing incredibly important and innovative scientific research on a daily basis.

While some of these students work in research in the early stages, other scientists work on projects that involve current treatments, such as electro-shock therapy, which can help treat neurological and psychological disorders. The average person may not realize how much such treatments have improved, something a recent author covered in his article on brain stimulation.

If scientists are more confident in their communication skills, they’ll be more likely to engage their communities in open dialogue. This, in turn, will give the public a better understanding of how medical research is progressing, and they may start to trust their healthcare providers more. If we can bridge the gap between the lab and lay people, we’ll create patients who are educated and subsequently empowered when it comes to health.

Much of my, and I imagine other people’s, health frustrations stem from a feeling of helplessness. Ten years of medical school stand between my doctor and me. How can I ever truly understand the intricacies of my healthcare options? While I may never be an expert, I strive to be informed. And, the more the research being done on the front lines is translated for the masses, the more I know we’ll have access to the resources we need in order to make important health decisions.